362. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Israel1

292126. Ref: State 290908;2 State 290924.3

Summary: Israeli Amb. Rabin December 23 delivered Aide-Memoire to Under Secretary Rostow outlining Israeli reaction to latest Soviet approach to USG on Middle East.4 Aide-Memoire and supplementary comments by Rabin reflect Israeli concern that U.S. policy is changing and that U.S. dialogue with Soviets and UAR is undermining Israeli position and harming Jarring Mission. Rostow reassured Rabin that fundamental U.S. policy unchanged, that U.S. reply to Soviet approach would protect vital U.S. and Israeli interests, and that our dialogue with Soviets is entirely within context and in support of Jarring Mission. End Summary.
Israeli Ambassador Rabin, accompanied by Minister Argov and Counsellor Raviv, called on Under Secretary Rostow December 23 to present Aide-Memoire from Foreign Minister Eban setting forth GOI reaction to latest Soviet communication on Middle East handed Rostow by Soviet Charge Tcherniakov December 19. Asst. Secretary Hart, Day (IO), and Atherton (NEA) also present.
Rostow commented as follows on Israeli Aide-Memoire (text by septel), which deals point by point with correspondingly numbered paragraphs of December 19 Soviet communication:
Paragraph one. First paragraph of Soviet Note dealing with General Armistice Agreements is tendentious misinterpretation of what U.S. had told Soviets. Rostow had made this clear to Tcherniakov and we would do so again in our formal reply to Soviet approach. Our position is that changes in 1949 Armistice lines are inevitable and desirable and are foreseen under terms of Armistice agreements. At same time we maintain that Armistice agreement provisions on this point should not be excuse for territorial expansion as such, that any changes in Armistice lines must be agreed and that extensive changes would be incompatible with our position and with GOI position as presented to us by Eban at earlier stage.
Paragraph two. Our position on Straits of Tiran is that any agreement would need to be clear with respect to navigation rights. We recognize that this problem has two aspects: (1) acknowledgment of international character of Straits and (2) method of guaranteeing free navigation.
Paragraph three. Our position on “timetable” concept is same as Israel’s. Timetable would be acceptable if it derived from agreement but could not be substitute for agreement. Rostow said he had asked Tcherniakov what was wrong from Soviet point of view with Israeli statement on acceptance and implementation of SC Resolution. Tcherniakov had not responded to this challenge.
Paragraph four. Rostow asked Rabin for clarification of this paragraph of Israeli Aide-Memoire. Rabin said GOI thought that continuation of US-Soviet dialogue would interfere with Jarring Mission since, if Arabs believed other channels to settlement were available, they would be encouraged not to cooperate with Jarring. Rostow said our entire dialogue with Soviets was designed to help Jarring. We were urging Soviets to prevail upon UAR to be more forthcoming with Jarring and had made clear that we opposed idea of Four-Power approach as substitute for Jarring Mission. Fact remained that there was considerable support in world for idea that Jarring should take more active role. For this reason we had urged Israelis to take initiatives with Jarring as means of heading off pressures from other sources. Rostow emphasized that we would continue our dialogue with Soviets, which was within context of US responsibilities as world power.
Paragraph five. Rostow agreed that December 19 Soviet communication attempted to defend negative UAR reaction to Secretary’s Seven Points. We would give due attention to Israeli comments in this respect in our reply to Soviets, making clear we will not support Israeli withdrawal except in context of peace.
Paragraph 6. Rostow agreed that this point in Soviet communication represented a backing away from earlier Soviet statements on demilitarization of Sinai. We suspected that this was bargaining position on part of Soviets and would deal with this question firmly in our reply.
In oral comments supplementing Aide-Memoire, Rabin recalled November 12 conversation with Under Secretary Katzenbach and quoted latter as stating that if Israel had changed its position on borders, USG would undermine that position. Hart corrected this interpretation, noting Katzenbach had said, in response to Argov’s expression of concern that USG had in fact undermined Israel’s bargaining position by giving seven points to UAR, that this could be considered to be the case only if Israel’s position had changed and it now sought territorial acquisitions (State 270935).5
Rabin said that until recently Israel had never understood it was US position that Israel should withdraw to June 4 lines “give or take a few miles.” Rabin said it now seemed that US had in fact decided to undermine Israeli position. By telling UAR that USG envisaged Israeli withdrawal to June 4 lines plus special arrangements for Gaza, USG had given away its own bargaining position with UAR and had demonstrated that it did not know how to deal with Arabs. UAR would proceed from this point and seek to erode US position on meaning of peace. Specifically, UAR was now seeking to make withdrawal from Syrian territory a condition for UAR-Israeli settlement and, in its reply to Secretary’s Seven Points, had made no mention of peace and had said nothing about signing same document as Israel.
Rabin said problem as he saw it was that US (a) assumed others were as reasonable as it was and (b) could not live with unsolved problems. Israel had to live with people who were not reasonable and believed that solutions sometimes could be achieved in long run by leaving problems unsolved. Until recently US and Israel had created situation in which Soviets and UAR were at disadvantage. If we continued to show patience, their position would change. Rabin said he could not reconcile US policy of past two months with President’s Five Principles for Middle East peace. In talking with UAR and Soviets, USG was on dangerous course unless it gave clear signal that it intended to stand by President’s Five Principles. Rabin said that in his view current US position could reduce chances for separate Israeli settlement with Jordan.
Rostow replied that we welcomed this frank expression of Israeli views. Excess of frankness preferable in this relation to excess of [Page 722] discretion. See Rider A6 not agree, however that we were on wrong course. Our policy had not changed; Secretary had stressed President’s Five Principles in his talk with Riad, making clear there could be no withdrawal except to [on?]condition of peace established through agreement. We had relied on Foreign Minister Eban’s statements to us in telling UAR we saw no need for territorial changes in Sinai, on condition that there was demilitarization and guaranteed free navigation. Rostow said he could not see how this had damaged Israel’s negotiating position. As was case with our reply to September approach by Soviets, GOI would be reassured by our response to this latest Soviet communication. There would be no change in fundamental US policy. We did not see that any damage had been done to Israel’s vital interests which, so far as UAR was concerned, consisted of a demilitarized Sinai and free navigation. With respect to Jordan, which remained key to solution of Palestine problem, we believed that chances of settlement with Jordan were better if dialogue was maintained with UAR.
Rostow concluded by assuring Rabin that we would take Israeli views into account in our reply to Soviets. We could understand Israeli anxieties but saw little substantive difference between us. GOI should recognize that it too could be wrong. Rostow reiterated that he could assure Rabin there was no change in US policy and no abandoning of vital US and Israeli interests in just and durable peace. We would nail this down firmly in terms of the President’s stated policy in our reply to Soviets. Rostow said he regretted first sentence of Israeli aide-memoire, and hoped GOI would think better of its conclusion in the light of events.
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967-69, POL 27 ARAB-ISR. Secret; Exdis. Drafted by Atherton, cleared by Day in draft and by Hart, and approved by Eugne Rostow. Repeated to Amman, Moscow, Cairo, and USUN.
  2. See footnote 1, Document 354.
  3. Document 356.
  4. See Document 361.
  5. Document 320.
  6. A note on an attached page fills in the text at this point: “Rider A as follows: US acknowledged it was capable of error. Rabin interjected that Israel too was capable of error. But Rostow could”.